Cup in liturgy, history and English

This article by Rita Ferrone amusingly complains about the use of the term “precious chalice” in the newer Catholic liturgy. From it I learned some things I didn’t know or hadn’t thought about before. In the early church “precious chalice” was only used to refer to heretical worship.

According to Eucharistic Prayer I, Jesus took “this” cup in his hands. Why this cup? There was an early controversy concerning whether water might be used instead of wine in the Eucharist. The wine-water controversy provides the key to why the Roman canon says “this potent [i.e. alcoholic/spiritually inebriating] cup”—meaning wine. The vessel is plainly not the focus; its contents are. In English, the word “cup” can refer to both the vessel and what it contains. Not so “chalice.” You can drink from a chalice, but you cannot “drink a chalice.” If you are talking about the contents of the vessel, “cup” is the only word that works.

My own tradition often speaks of a chalice (probably because such a vessel often decorates our communion tables). It is a convenient symbol. The word has always seemed to me to connote something more ornate than Jesus used in the upper room. But, as the article points out, the actual symbolism is not about the vessel.

The content of the cup is what matters. I recently worshiped where they used a hymnal that had changed the line “let us drink wine together” to “let us drink the cup together”. Besides messing up the meter, there was obviously a temperance agenda behind the change. The whole point was to take the focus away from the contents of the cup. But no one takes it literally that Jesus meant to say this cup (this container) is the new covenant in my blood.

Think about the New Testament. The word “cup” is usually a metaphor for the contents of the cup. Jesus prayed in the garden that he could avoid drinking the cup of suffering and death. In Revelation angels pour out cups of wrath.

Also, I thought about the old English phrase, “he’s in his cups.” In other words, he’s drunk.


About theoutwardquest

I have many interests, but will blog mostly about what I read in the fields of Bible and religion.
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